The Arctic — a once pristine wilderness under siege. Mexico — living
in the shadow of tariff-free factories. Uzbekistan — caught
between its silk road heritage and the realities of the 21st
century. And the United States — a Latino neighborhood
celebrates an environmental victory — while a sanctuary
for biodiversity becomes a graveyard for millions of birds. Journey
To Planet Earth investigates the global link between the release
of toxic pollutants and the health of our planet.
We begin our journey in the Arctic,
an isolated and vulnerable world of extremes. In many ways, this
is the perfect place to investigate the future health of our
planet — a future conditional
on how we cope with the spread of toxic pollution.
The Arctic is a place dominated by the rhythms of nature and
the seasonal patterns of migration. It's a place of deep fiords
teeming with life and remote fishing villages governed by the
endless cycle of strong tidal currents. However, the image that
most people have of the polar region — of a pristine unspoiled
wilderness — is far from accurate. The Arctic, which has
very few sources of industrial pollution, is turning into a toxic
sink. In a phenomenon scientists call the grasshopper effect,
toxic pollutants released thousands of miles to the south evaporate
in the warm climate then ride the winds until they reach the
cold air of the Arctic, where they eventually fall to the earth.
Thousands of miles to the south in Tijuana,
the community of Colonia Chilpancingo suffered from a much more
local source of pollution. When it rains a nearby creek is flooded with chemical
wastes from a deserted industrial park upstream. Lead oxides,
sulfites, heavy metals, sulfuric acid, and arsenic travel in the contaminated waterway that weave its way through the
shantytown community. It poisons everything and everyone in its
path — including the community's only source of water.
Over the border just 17 miles North, the San Diego community
Logan celebrates its victory over one of its
neighborhood’s chief polluters
, a small industrial factory called Master Plating. Although the struggle
against environmental threats to the community's health has
lasted decades, the price of not fighting is too high not
Over 7,000 miles away in the Central Asian nation of Uzbekistan,
the death of the Aral Sea has become a never-ending nightmare.
The rivers that fed the sea were diverted to increase the region’s
cotton production, leaving behind a toxic
dust that is poisoning the people.
Though most scientists have concluded that it's too late to
save the Aral Sea, it does serve as a graphic warning for the
people of Palm Springs who
may live in the path of a potential storm of toxic dust. Just
beyond the Salton Sea is a vast network of generators that harness
the power of the wind, providing ample electricity but also serving
as a reminder that high winds are a natural part of the local
As the Salton Sea begins to recede, toxic dust storms will inevitably
come off the dried-out lakebed. Despite this danger, the transfer
of water from the Sea to the city of San Diego has gone forward
without an agreed upon plan or even adequate funds to remedy
the situation. Could Californians be risking a similar health
crisis as the people of Uzbekistan?
This new reality presents us with enormous challenges for the
future. It is a future conditional on providing new ideas, new
attitudes and new hope.